Watching Your Search Come to Life: How Augmented Reality and Visual Search Work Together

Humans are extremely visual creatures. In fact, 90 percent of the information we receive is processed visually, and we can identify images in fewer than 13 milliseconds. So, when we search for something online, it’s no surprise using words can sometimes fail us.

According to Pinterest’s CEO Ben Silbermann, “the future of search will be about pictures rather than keywords.” Now, those visual searches are on their way to becoming even more enhanced with the onset of augmented reality (AR) capabilities being embedded in the search technology itself.

What is visual search?
Visual search is often confused with image search; however, the two are very different. With an image search, you can perform a query either by text or a reverse image search. Visual search, on the other hand, allows you to use a camera (typically on a smartphone or tablet) to search the physical world in real-time. The search engine can identify objects in the image and use them to find similar products, suggest places to buy them, and make other useful suggestions to consumers.

How does augmented reality play into visual search?
Recently, AR has made its way into the visual search landscape, as the natural progression of the technology called for an even more interactive platform. AR works alongside visual search to enrich the search results and enhance our physical world.

The technology uses a device’s camera to identify objects, places, and even languages. The on-board AR can then help annotate our everyday lives with more information, accessibility, and heightened experience.

Aparna Chennapragada, VP of Google Lens & AR, says her company is taking visual search from an identification tool, “to an AR browser, meaning you can actually superimpose information right on the camera.”

What can AR and visual search do together?
One of the frontrunners in the AR and visual search space is Google Lens. Their application of AR into their visual search platform is changing the search landscape, from the way we experience foreign countries, to how we order food at a restaurant.

For example, imagine you’re visiting a country whose native language is unfamiliar, but you find yourself intrigued by a historical landmark and can’t read the plaque in front of the building. With AR and visual search, you can simply center your camera over the text and read a version of the sign in your own language, as if the text had been that way all along.

Or, imagine you’re sitting in a restaurant with no idea what to order. You can simply hold your camera over the menu and popular dishes will be highlighted right on the screen with options to read reviews or view photos of the dishes.

Visual search’s AR capabilities can also animate photos, demonstrate recipes from magazines or books, and provide your favorite sports team’s latest stats by simply pointing your camera in the right direction.

Although AR and visual search technology is still in its infancy, it’s already changing the way we search.

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